Friday 30 December 2022

Barbara Walters

It seemed like she was on the fast track in the early 1950s.

She left the Rand ad agency in 1952 to be a PR assistant at NBC’s local radio/TV opearations in New York. The next year she moved to producing WNBT’s “Ask the Camera.” A year later, she was producing “The Eloise McElhone Show” on WPIX. Within weeks, she was put on camera when McElhone took a vacation.

So it was that on Monday, April 12, 1954, at 2:30 p.m., TV viewers first greeted Barbara Walters.

Her rise in the industry is legendary, mainly because of her aggressiveness and having to deal with old-school newsmen who felt a woman’s place was not anchoring or interviewing on a network, except maybe for fluff pieces on cooking or fashion. Her million-dollar deal putting her next to the suddenly unhappy Harry Reasoner at ABC-TV in 1976 was historic. Her interview specials made news.

How have things changed? Her later programme, The View, was somewhat reminiscent of a panel tabloid show, including McElhone, called Leave It To The Girls that started on radio in the 1940s. McElhone, called “a man hater” by critics at the time,” is long forgotten and a show with “girls” in the title would likely bring howls of outrage and cries of sexism.

I’ve looked around to find any early interviews about Walters’ career, and spotted one in the October 7, 1956 edition of the New York Herald Tribune. There is no byline. Almost every reference to her I’ve spotted in the first half of the ‘50s refers to her father.

BARBARA WALTERS was brought up in an atmosphere of show business. She couldn’t much help it—her father Lou Walters, is the popular proprietor of one of New York’s famous night spots, the Latin Quarter. The shapely, green-eyed beauty could make a successful career in the bright lights if she so wanted, yet Broadway’s glitter and glamour can’t attract Barbara, and it “probably never will.”
The closest Lou Walters’ daughter has gotten to the world of entertainment is with her present job, that of a feature-producer and writer on CBS TV’s “Good Morning!” show starring Will Rogers, Jr. She helps create and stage the fashion vignettes that decorate the show, in addition to contacting guest celebrities and feature acts.
“It’s funny,” she said with a pert smile, “but I vowed some time ago that my father’s unorthodox hours weren’t for me. That’s one of the reasons I don’t particularly care for showbusiness. Anyway, he goes to work when other people come home, and he gets in after three a.m. I never used to see him more than a few minutes each day, if at all. So what happens! My life is just as ridiculous as his now! I have to get up for work at 4:30 a.m. He comes home, and I leave!”
In spite of the ironic twist of things, Barbara is quite happy with her lot and just now is content to exercise her creative talents behind the cameras.
In her early twenties, and married to businessman Bob Katz (who is far and away from showbusiness) Barbara admires Will Rogers, Jr., because of his success in carving out a career for himself entirely on his own merits.
As for future plans, Barbara would like to stay with TV, but her upper-most dream is to “work at a newspaper, perhaps write a TV column. “Then,” says determined Barbara, “I wouldn’t care about the hours!”

Walters spent 1958 to 1961 working for Tex McCrary’s public relations outfit, then moved to Rowland Co. It would seem to have been a comedown when she ended up at the Today show before the year was out; she went from running a radio and TV division of a PR firm to a writer. But Walters was canny. When Jackie Kennedy announced a tour of India and Pakistan for March 1962, Walters was in the media entourage, the only American woman who was part of it, reporting live via short wave (for the record, Lisa Howard anchored five-minute daily reports on the trip from ABC-TV in New York. The Herald Tribune pointed out they were geared to housewives).

Slowly but surely, she continued to be handed reporting assignments on the show—some hard news, some not—and when Today was revamped with Hugh Downs hosting, Walters, who “came in by the back door” in her own words, continued to increase her stock with viewers and the press, which flooded newspapers and magazines and stories with her, starting in 1965. It was noted by one columnist she and Downs were chatting on camera more often and she was handling more commercials. When Today co-host Jack Lescoulie was fired the following year, Walters was there and ready (and respected by producer Al Morgan, unlike Lescoulie).

There were other women regularly on the networks at the time—Marlene Sanders (began TV anchoring at ABC in 1964), Nancy Dickerson (CBS’ first female reporter in 1960) and the veteran Pauline Frederick (reporting on ABC starting in 1947, TV in 1948), not to mention part-time interviewer Arlene Francis—but Walters, through sheer force of personality, is the one who is getting credit in stories about her death for opening doors and breaking glass ceilings for women in the media.

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